Friday Things: The Eclectic vs. Purist Edition

It’s been a while since I shared any remodeling news.  That’s because most of the interior work we wanted to do on the new house is done and we’ve been enjoying a respite from projects beyond the ongoing purging and organization of stuff.  But an early spring is upon us and a wedding party is happening here in June so I’m starting to focus on the garden and outdoor spaces.

As you may recall from earlier posts, the house was built in 1979. Set on a hillside and designed by architect Jim Jennings, it consists of 3 separate rectangles that connect at the entrance. The first rectangle houses a two story living room, the second the street level garage above a small laundry/pantry space and the third and largest rectangle features bedrooms above and below the kitchen/dining/family room.

The original design also included 3 deck areas – a narrow bridge-like walkway from the driveway to the front door, a triangular deck off the main level entrance on the view side of the kitchen and living room rectangles, and a small square deck between the family room and the wall beneath the garage.  Still with me?  3 rectangles + 3 geometric decks = 1 pristine modernist structure.

Then came Owner #2 who hired a landscape firm in 1991 to create more garden space.  A new deck and arbor were added to the front (you can see the bright blue line outlining the additional front deck dimensions above) and a series of bridges, walkways, staircases, seating areas, fences and shade trellises were built around the back to create a garden and access more of the remarkable view of the San Francisco Bay and the wooded canyon heading down to the water.  I call it the Swiss Family Robinson school of architecture.  It has a ramshackle, build as you go feeling that is clearly all wrong for the clean lines of the original 3 + 3  house.  But as we contemplate repairs and reconstruction of the deck I find that part of the charm of the outdoor space is the tumble-down nature of these secondary decks. I’m pretty sure a modernist architect like Jennings would rip them off in a heartbeat.  But I’m reluctant to let them go.

Time and money will limit what we do, but my mind is sorting out a direction to pursue.  And so I’m curious.  How have you reconciled the different aesthetic choices that a home with multiple owners will surely manifest? Did you embrace the eclectic mix or work towards restoring the intent of the original architect?

Something I’ve been thinking about this week. Also, these things:

Beautiful meditation on a wordless afterlife.

Falcon perches.

Some background on Bruce Lee’s philosophy to Be Like Water.

Why that WHITE & GOLD dress looks different to the rest of you.

I get it, Melanie.

And finally, this video about making the set for the latest Marc Jacobs fashion show featuring our daughter Claire.  Cool stuff.

Happy Weekend All!


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Mr. Turner and Oscar Fashions

Too late for this year’s Chaise Lounge Awards I saw the oh-so-lovely Mr. Turner.  The movie is a long series of vignettes about the 19th century English Romanticist landscape painter J.M.W. Turner.  It garnered a 98% critical rating on Rotten Tomatoes but only a 60% audience rating.  With good reason.  Unless you’re really into color and light–like the original “painter of light”–this movie would have you napping in no time.

We saw Mr. Turner in a small, narrow theater outfitted with rows of two seats on either side of a central aisle–think small commuter plane. And because we got there just before the film started we were sitting on the second row. Five minutes in I started thinking about calling my chiropractor.

Nevertheless, the stunning imagery and cinematography kept me engaged throughout the entire two and a half hours that actor Timothy Spall brought Turner and his paintings to life.  I winced at Turner’s personal life and marveled at how he capture sun, rain, wind and fog with paint and spit (did I mention he’s a bit off putting?).  It made me want to see the real paintings–most of which are found in the British Isles though not all together as Turner had hoped.

I dare say I strolled by the Turners in my youth as I hunted down more familiar portraits and tableaus. I don’t remember them because landscapes are lost on the young.  Now the good ones seem miraculous. Try photographing a sunset sometime and you’ll see how hard it is to capture that moment and make it unlike any other sunset you’ve ever photographed.  Turner did it using paint, watercolor, pencil, pen, ink and, yes again, spit.

Here are a few of Turner’s masterpieces interspersed with my favorite gowns from this year’s Oscar Awards, like Jennifer Hudson’s yellow sheath by Romona Keveza.

Or Rosamund Pike’s lace and satin strapless gown by Givenchy Haute Couture.

Then there was the elegant (but must have weighed a ton) pearl encrusted halter gown by Francisco Coasta for the Calvin Klein Collection on Lupita Nyong’o.

The textured confection by Alexander McQueen on Felicity Jones.

And the elegant Lanvin separates worn by Meryl Streep.

Forces of nature all.

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Best Movie Sets of 2014

This weekend is the Oscars and rumor has it that actress and design enthusiast Julianne Moore is helping to decorate the official Green Room.  I’m looking forward to seeing what she comes up with. I’m also excited about taking one more glimpse at the art direction and sets from the past year’s movies.

Whether it was the rat-a-tat-tatty backstage actors’ nests in BIRDMAN, the righteous ‘60s digs in SELMA or the futuristic funhouse of GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, the sets from this year’s movies enthralled and entertained.

Thanks to all the set designers and art directors who made last year’s movies BELLE-isimo. To you I present my annual Chaise Lounge (or Longue for you Francophiles) awards for the best design elements in the movies of 2014:

Best Kitchen – The colorful upstart Indian kitchen in THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY may not have earned the Michelin star but it got my vote. Runner up: The off-the-rails food truck in CHEF.

 Best Lighting – I went WILD for that little glowing tent out on the trail.

Best Color Palette–Who could resist seeing Wes Anderson’s world through rose-colored glasses in THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL?

Best Library – The multi-dimensional/time travel farm house bookshelves were (INTER)STELLAR.

Creepiest Cottage – The pool house/cottage in THE ONE I LOVE proved that fantasies–real estate or marital–aren’t always the best reality.

Best Houseboat – Spacious and done in a thoroughly modern grey-on-grey color scheme, the ark in NOAH offered a rustic-chic place to come in out of the rain.

Worst Bachelor/Bachelorette Pad – The sad computer filled room in THE IMMITATION GAME vied with Bill Murray’s ramshackle dump in ST. VINCENT and Rapunzel’s rocky tower in INTO THE WOODS for dreariest place to pine for an unrequited love.

Best Hangout – The rooftop on Tina Fey’s childhood home was the only place to find peace in THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU.

Best Chamber of Horrors – Take one urban loft piano hall add a dungeon like practice room, then mix in the wood-paneled Old Boy’s Club rehearsal room and you’re sure to get WHIPLASH. Runner-up: The eery Roman bone chapel in TRIP TO ITALY.

And now, the Grand Chaise—the one with the leopard print velvet slipcover—is awarded to The Place I Wish I Called Home:

Though I lusted after Neil Patrick Harris’s modern house in GONE GIRL, things just got a little too messy for me.  And the rap star razzle-dazzle of Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s place in BEYOND THE LIGHTS turnt me up.  But I think the tired grandeur of the viager Parisian apartment in MY OLD LADY seemed cozy cool—especially if I could bring in a few more lamps and see it in the golden glow of THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING.

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Friday Things: The Valentine’s Day 2015 Edition

Happy Friday the 13th/Valentine’s Day/President’s Day weekend everyone!  Wow, that’s quite the mashup.  Not sure what image would really capture that — chocolate covered scorpions wielding teeny-tiny American flags? I’ll stick with sparkly sugar cookie hearts and share some other sweet things to savor when you get a moment.

The romance of a pink sofa.

If Stanley Tucci were your boyfriend.

Heart Art.

Why you shouldn’t go out to eat on Valentine’s Day.

Instead, make bittersweet brownies with cranberries.

Senator Alan Simpson and his wife Ann save a relationship and share tips from their marriage (really good stuff.)

And a sweet little love song by Natalie Prass.

Happy Weekend All!



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Friday Things: The Pink Bathrobe Edition

Achew! Pardon me while I reach for another box of tissues.  It’s been awhile since I’ve had the kind of cold that keeps me up all night and napping through the day, but this week a doozy of a virus reminded me why it’s decongestants and not diamonds that are a girl’s best friend.

I tried to make the most of an excuse to lay low, but after a day or two of kicking around the house in my robe catching up on nighttime soaps (Empire, anyone?), I decided to get dressed and head into a morning session of the annual Design San Francisco conference.

On my way there I saw a woman in a pink bathrobe standing in front of a blue-green mural talking with someone on her phone. I thought, now that’s a nice color for a robe.  Then, why is she out on the street in her robe?  Was she inadvertently locked out of her apartment? Waiting for someone to drop off bagels to go with her coffee? I had more questions and would like to have rolled down the window to say “nice robe!” but the light changed and I was off to learn about color trends and how to buy and sell vintage furnishings online.

Cruising through the design showrooms, I didn’t see anything else as captivating as that spot of pink against the blue.  Made me glad I’d rallied to leave the house.

Here are some other things that caught my eye this week:

This welcoming all-white interior.

A towel warmer turned drying rack for the laundry room?

Helpful kitchen tips.

Novelist Louise Plummer’s  response to the sexist Colleen McCullough obit.

How to find fulfilling work.

Writing advice that resonated.

So are you a blamer? Yeah, me too.

Happy Weekend All!  Stay healthy.


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Field Trip: The Marin County Civic Center

Is there a landmark building near you that you’ve never explored.  The Marin County Civic Center was that for me.  Though I’ve driven by it many times over the years, I’d never taken the time to go inside.  A recent story assignment propelled me to take a tour and I thought I’d show you a bit of what I saw.

Along with nine other Frank Lloyd Wright-designed buildings, the MCCC has just been nominated by U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewel for inclusion on the World Heritage List of significant cultural and natural sites. It was the last building designed by  Wright and though he died before he could see it completed, his vision continues to inspire and delight visitors nearly a half century later.

Finished in 1969, the two long horizontal buildings connect three grassy hills in southern Marin County—a landscape that Wright said was one of the most beautiful he’d ever seen. A central dome topped with a 172-foot gold spire “punctuates” the entire complex that has been featured in several sci-fi films and served as the inspiration for the buildings on the planet Naboo in Star Wars films.

You can see a strong Japanese influence in the intricate detailing on the spire and elsewhere in the MCCC.

As well as circular motifs that Wright thought would enhance the building’s flow.

The floor plan features a central atrium topped by curved skylights that cast interesting shadows throughout the day.

Wright-designed furniture shows up in the Board of Supervisor’s room (some of the furniture was built by inmates at nearby San Quentin)

And in the space-age domed Library.

It’s said that Wright’s favorite colors were gold and red—particularly the brick red known as Taliesen red (named after Wright’s school of architecture) that you see on the terrazzo and composite tile floors at the MCCC.  The color seems more Southwest than NorCal, but I guess you could say it’s a kissing cousin to Golden Gate Bridge orange.

The interior walls are sandstone color but lots of gold details light up corners and exterior walkways.

Initially the entire roof was supposed to be painted gold.  However, when a weather-resistant gold paint couldn’t be found, the roof was painted blue to blend in with the sky.

Docent-led tours of the MCCC are offered every Wednesday morning and begin in the 3rd floor cafeteria where you’ll also find an alcove devoted to newspaper clippings, drawings and artifacts from the time.

You can also download a self-guided tour. But be sure to step into the cafeteria to peruse some of the artifacts. Fascinating stuff.  Easy to access.  What took me so long?

Is there a nearby historic landmark you’ve always wanted to see but haven’t?  If so, what’s holding you back?

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Friday Things: The Shrinking Newspaper Edition

Feeling redundant this week after being told that the Home & Garden section for the Bay Area News Group is going away.  I suppose it was inevitable. Anyone reading (or writing for) newspapers has seen design coverage diminish drastically over the years so I won’t bore you with sad talk about How it Used to Be.  But I couldn’t let this Friday Things post pass without saying that I will miss writing (and reading!) longer features about Bay Area design professionals, projects and events for a newspaper group that has been my home for twenty some years.

Here’s to figuring out new ways to share the stories that I’m pretty sure people still want to read.  In the meantime, I’m here.  Saying hi.  Talking about design at home, in the garden and out and about.  Thanks for sticking with me.

In happier news, here are some things that caught my attention this week:

Design knows no age limit.

Life hacks for people over 50.

Joan Didion and Celine.

Ideal body types through the ages.

How much do you resemble your ancestors?

Some thoughts on the Parenthood finale (major spoilers) here, here and here.

Dreamy or creepy? Jeff Bridges sleeping tapes.

Enjoy the game this weekend (or at least Katy Perry’s half-time show.)

Happy Weekend All!

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AT: Neon Museum Las Vegas

For this installment of Away Things, I’m sharing the fun, fast hour we spent last weekend at the Neon Museum in Las Vegas.

This outdoor museum is not only sassy, it’s also surprisingly beautiful. There’s just something irresistible about these out-to-pasture remnants of Viva Las Vegas.

Also known as the Neon Boneyard, the museum features artfully arranged signage from small establishments like wedding chapels and dry cleaners.

As well as big hotels and casinos like the Moulin Rouge,

Caesars Palace,

And the Stardust Inn, which happens to be as old as me.  Don’t we look fabulous for our age?!

The museum also houses several fiberglass sculptures including a giant skull from the old Treasure Island.  Arrrr!

And this peek-a-boo fellow from The Mysterious East.

I had a hard time paying attention to the very excellent tour guide because I was having so much fun snapping photos of the beautiful shapes and colors in all their decrepit glory. But M.J. tells me that the one hour tour features lots of interesting tidbits about the history of Las Vegas.

As an extra bonus, the visitor center is housed in the restored (and relocated) La Concha Motel lobby designed by Paul Revere Williams in 1961. Williams was a fascinating character — a pioneering African American architect who designed homes for people like Frank Sinatra and Lucille Ball as well as notable public buildings including a portion of LAX. The La Concha Motel is considered one of the best preserved examples of futuristic Googie (think The Jetsons) architecture.

If you have time, I’d suggest popping into the nearby Carson Kitchen—located in a renovated midcentury modern motel known as the John E. Carson building—for some innovative (but not too much so) comfort food. We enjoyed classics like burgers and mac & cheese but the broccoli salad and tempura beans were just ducky–and deserved their own marquee treatment.

Tours to the Neon Museum are available day or night but must be booked in advance.  For more information go here.

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Glamping at Home

Before we move too far into the new year, I wanted to share our holiday adventure glamping at home.

Glamping—or glamorous camping—usually happens in a picturesque location and is facilitated by adventure travel companies who set up a safari-like tent with all the comforts of home.  The tents are commonly made of canvas and outfitted with lavishly appointed beds, area rugs and lighting. Gourmet meals are often served and massage services available.

With everyone home for the holidays, our empty nest was shy a guest room so we decided to set up a glamping tent of our own out on the back deck.  I’d provide tasty meals and the kids and their significant others could figure out the foot rubs.

We researched several tent companies and finally settled on Portland-based Beckel Canvas Products.  Primarily because they came highly recommended and could deliver a tent to us on time but also because they’d been part of a West Elm campaign, so that added a little hipster cache.

The deck where we’d be setting up the tent is 12 feet square so we ordered a 9’ x 12’ tent in order to leave space to enter and exit the tent.  (It also meant we wouldn’t have to go to the trouble to move the grill and pots off the deck.) The tents come in standard sizes but are custom made for each order. We opted to add a window on one side but not an opening in the roof to accommodate a fire-burning stove.  This would just be a place to sleep, not somewhere to hunker down while hunting wild boar.

The tent is relatively compact–see the canvas, poles and connectors above.  It’s beautifully made and easy to assemble.  Here are some shots of M.J. and Will putting it together.


Then came the fun of outfitting our glamping tent.  We laid down old area rugs that don’t quite work in this house, then placed a new up-off-the-ground air mattress from Frontgate on the left side of the tent. There was still plenty of room to add a chair and a floor lamp.  A garden stool became a night table and some framed postcards of Yellowstone evoked wild(er) places.

The temperatures dropped down below freezing at night so we made sure there were plenty of covers and a space heater plugged into a nearby outlet. Will was the inaugural guest.  He gave it a thumbs up for comfort and privacy, but noted how noisy it was when it rained the first night –”like being inside a drum.”

Curious about how it really felt to sleep there, M.J. and I donned our flannels and spent New Year’s Eve in the tent right before we took it down.  I can report that once you were under the covers, it was toasty enough, though I woke with a cold nose which wasn’t entirely unpleasant and reminded me of times spent camping with our family when they were young.  And then, of course, there was the bracing thrill of running indoors in the dark to the bathroom–which is why I’d recommend this option for youthful guests who can sleep through the night! That said, I hated to leave our little “Out of Africa” retreat in the morning.

Taking the tent down was a snap.

Nevertheless, it was nice to have the family engineer draw helpful diagrams on the pole bag just to make sure we could put it up again on our own.

The tent and furnishings are neatly stowed away now, but I’m already looking forward to glamping again next summer!

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Friday Things: Saying Goodbye to Old Cars

Early this morning we said farewell to a member of the family fleet.  We bought this used Audi A6 when Claire was in high school.  She wanted something cooler to drive than the family mini-van or M.J.’s dented Camry. But fourteen years later (and probably close to 150,000 miles–the odometer broke some time ago) the “cool” car was giving us a good deal of grief.

In the past when the car was having troubles we’d take it to a guy named Mike who wore a leather do-rag and had a penchant for fast cars. He’d tinker with the Audi just enough to keep it going, though he could never get the “check engine” light to stay off for long. Which wasn’t a problem until Will drove it to get his driver’s license and the DMV refused to let him take his test because the light was still on. We had assured him that wouldn’t be a problem.  I’m not sure we’ve been forgiven yet.

The Audi was primarily the kids’ car and took all three of them to early morning seminary, school, sports practices, proms and even honeymoons. When they left it became M.J.’s commute car–fine for short drives to catch the casual carpool but without heat or air conditioning not all that fun to spend time in.  With our move up into the foggy hills it became more crucial to reliably defrost the windows. But Mike’s shop had moved to a less convenient location and even if he had been close by, the heating and air conditioning repairs would have been more than the car was worth.  A few months ago the electrical system started to fail so we couldn’t lock the doors or gas tank and in the last few weeks the car alarm started to go off erratically. So we made the hard decision to let her go.

Before the tow truck sent by the Red Cross took her away, M.J. laid his hands on the hood and thanked the Audi one last time for carrying all that precious cargo all these years.   And me, well I’ve spent the day feeling a little bereft about the empty parking space at the end of the driveway.

Here are a few other things that carried me through this week.

Mirror, mirror on the (exterior) walls–I could see myself in this reflective house.

Ideas for fireplaces and, of interest to me now, attractive firewood stacking.

Some thoughts on cooking mindfully.

Beautiful images of Vienna, where I studied abroad in the winter of 1978.

Tom Hanks on his two years at my local community college.

Local Idaho boy makes good–this kid’s from my home town!

New Yorker cartoons in response to Charlie Hebdo.

Common and John Legend perform the Golden Globe winning “Glory.”

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Kathryn Pritchett

writes about Things Elemental — where we find shelter, why we connect, what sustains us and how we strut our stuff.

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    • Thirty-five years of smiling for the camera with this guy. Happy Coral Anniversary MJ! #averygoodyear #averygoodlifetogether